The Future for Kyotos International Cap and Trade system

So far, the Kyoto Protocol—an international agreement negotiated in Kyoto, Japan, in December 1997 and ratified by 172 countries—is the main global response to climate change. The treaty sought to limit the greenhouse gas emissions of industrialized countries by 5.2 percent by the year 2012. Under Kyoto, each country was assigned a mandatory goal for emission cuts, with some countries facing much higher goals than others. Countries could take direct actions to cut their own emissions, or because Kyoto sought global emissions cuts without regard to their origin, the treaty created a "cap-and-trade" scheme that allowed participating countries to trade emissions credits. Under this program, a country that could not meet its emissions goal was permitted to purchase or trade for credits from countries that were exceeding their goals. Countries could also offset their excess emissions by financing emissions-reducing projects in developing countries under a program called the Clean Development Mechanism. A similar program, called Joint Implementation, was available to encourage emissions-reducing projects in eastern Europe and countries that used to be part of the former Soviet Union.

In February 2005 members of the National Global Warming Coalition present a Valentine's Day card to President George W. Bush outside the White House, urging him to sign the Kyoto Protocol.

In February 2005 members of the National Global Warming Coalition present a Valentine's Day card to President George W. Bush outside the White House, urging him to sign the Kyoto Protocol.

From the beginning, however, the Kyoto treaty faced many obstacles. The most damaging blow was that the United States— the single largest source of carbon emissions, responsible for about 25 percent of global greenhouse gases—refused to approve the treaty. The U.S. Senate in 1997 passed the Byrd-Hagel Resolution, claiming that the treaty's failure to cover developing nations would place U.S. companies at a disadvantage and harm the U.S. economy. The rapidly developing nations of China and India, for example, were not required to reduce any carbon emissions under the Kyoto agreement. As a result of this opposition, U.S. president Bill Clinton never submitted the Kyoto treaty to the U.S. Senate for ratification. Australia, also a major source of carbon emissions, rejected the treaty for similar reasons. Without the United States and Australia, Kyoto became a treaty that primarily targeted Canada, Japan, and the European Union.

UN secretary general Ban Ki-Moon addresses delegates to the 2007 UN Climate Change Conference in Bali, Indonesia. Supporters hope to finalize a new treaty by 2009.

united nations climate change conference

; 1__NlJsa Dua - Bali, lndonesia, 3-14 December 2007 _

Today, even these countries are failing to meet their emissions targets. Canada and Japan, for example, each had a target of 6 percent reduction over 1990 emissions levels, but instead their emissions have increased. In addition, ten of the fifteen European Union countries appear likely to fail to meet their Kyoto goals by a wide margin. At the same time, China's emissions have grown considerably, and it remains unregulated. Moreover, even if Kyoto goals were completely met, experts say this would reduce global temperatures only slightly, not enough to stop global warming or its harmful consequences. The 1997 Kyoto treaty, therefore, is now seen by many people as a failure.

A process is now underway to negotiate a new global emissions treaty. Representatives from around the world have already met several times, and formal negotiations on a new treaty began in December 2007 in Bali. Supporters hope to finalize a new treaty by 2009 in order to allow time for ratification before 2012, when the current treaty expires.

However, most commentators think treaty negotiators will face huge challenges. The issue of whether industrialized countries should bear most of the burden for reducing emissions promises to be the main stumbling block to a new global agreement. The United States joined the Bali negotiations, but it continues to demand that China and India also cap their emissions. The view of China, India, and other developing countries, however, is that most of the excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere today is the result of more than a hundred years of unfettered development in the industrialized world, so these developed nations should bear most or all of the burden for reducing future emissions, while allowing emerging nations their chance to develop their economies. Many climate experts agree. As UN Framework Convention on Climate Change executive secretary Yvo de Boer argued, " [any new treaty] should respect the . . . need for much deeper emission reductions by industrialized countries."39

Another issue for negotiation is the level of mandatory emissions caps. A draft document at Bali suggested cuts for industrialized countries of 25 to 40 percent by 2020—signifi-cant increases from the reductions called for in the 1997 Kyoto treaty—but the United States, Russia, and Japan objected. Yet scientists have suggested that much bigger cuts—in the range of 50 to 80 percent—must be made to avoid catastrophic global temperature increases. For example, a 2007 report released by scientists at Texas Tech University, the Union of Concerned Scientists, and Stanford University recommended that the United States reduce its emissions by at least 80 percent below 2000 levels by 2050.

And some controversy still remains about the methods for reducing emissions. Despite the Kyoto treaty's past flaws, many commentators stand by its cap-and-trade system. Many other observers, however, favor a carbon tax—a flat tax that would be applied across the board to all homes, businesses, automobiles, and public transportation systems. Supporters say that a carbon tax would be much simpler, require less enforcement and international effort, and would automatically promote conservation and business innovations to save fuel. Some European countries, such as France, have publicly supported a carbon tax approach, but American leaders so far have been wary. Many policy makers fear it could increase the prices of consumer goods and create inflation or, if not adopted globally, that it could drive jobs and business toward countries that do not adopt such a tax. Only time will tell which, if any, of these strategies will be adopted by the global community.

Many commentators think, however, that the negotiations begun in Bali will ultimately succeed simply because they must. As Tony Juniper, executive director of the environmental group Friends of the Earth, puts it, "Bali could be the last chance to avoid the worst effect of global warming. . . . One should be cautiously optimistic about the prospects for getting the outline of the deal because we're . . . [ruined] if we don't."40

Was this article helpful?

0 0
Solar Panel Basics

Solar Panel Basics

Global warming is a huge problem which will significantly affect every country in the world. Many people all over the world are trying to do whatever they can to help combat the effects of global warming. One of the ways that people can fight global warming is to reduce their dependence on non-renewable energy sources like oil and petroleum based products.

Get My Free Ebook

Post a comment